Thursday, October 21, 2010

Socionomic Context on the Rare Earth Metals "War"

I'm sure you've seen some mention of China imposing export restrictions on "rare earth" elements that have become critical to many new energy and defense technologies. This issue has been discussed here at FutureJacked as well as in the Socionomist.

The Congressional Research Service produced a report on the rare earths and policy options entitled Rare Earth Elements: The Global Supply Chain. For policy wonks it is worth a read.

What I'd like to point out is the schizophrenic nature of the response to this supply issue/challenge/problem. Socionomics tells us that as this period of negative mood drags on, more restrictions will be put in place on capital and goods, more anger will be expressed in international relations and the superstructure of treaties and trading ties built up during the old Bull Market will be shredded. We are seeing the initial phases of this.

Options floated to this issue include challenging China through the WTO, supporting new mining operations in the U.S. and stockpiling.

The WTO option is based on the dying paradigm of harmonious international relations, wherein countries and societies saw integration into a larger and freer world economy would allow a rising tide of prosperity to lift all boats. If the socionomic thesis is correct and if we are in an era defined by negative sentiment, then one might expect any WTO action to fail - either by disappearing into bureaucratic swamp and fizzling out or by China refusing to allow the WTO to dictate their trade policy on this matter, preferring instead to divert that material into strategic domestic production instead of being a wholesaler to the West who then turn the material into value-added products.

Supporting new mining operations seems also at cross-purposes with negative mood. While the idea of home-grown mining of goods for "us" as a way of sticking it to "them" has an appeal, there are dramatic hurdles in place to building out new infrastructure in the face of the environmental policies put in place during the Bull era, back when we thought we could afford all sorts of extra costs on productive activity because we were all going to get rich, stay rich and buy cheap stuff from China. Home-grown production of rare earths will come to pass in the U.S., but not after ugly fights with environmental types, in my opinion.

Hoarding/Stockpiling will probably be the first option chosen. The defense stockpiles will be rebuilt based on whatever supply can be obtained whilst the legal battles over resuming production in the U.S. are fought. Hoarding/stockpiling is a natural reaction to uncertain times and probably will be implemented quickly.

Remember, we are still operating in a world structure built up and defined by positive mood beliefs. That structure is totally at odds with the growing negative sentiment. When/if we see the big collapse in mood once this delusional "I've got my eyes closed so the monster under the bed won't see me" phase breaks like bad fever, then the schizophrenic nature of trying to operate within a world economic system built for a dead era should come clear, and a trail of broken economies, ignored treaties, trade wars and eventually hot wars will follow.

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